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RamsWeek 35 - Close But No Cigar
RamsWeek 35 - Close But No Cigar
Sunday, 28th Aug 2011 19:48 by Paul Mortimer

After winning their first four opening games of a new campaign for the first time in over a century, Derby County had a week to prepare for the visit of Burnley.

Kevin Kilbane received recognition for his good start to the season with the Rams as he was given a call-up to the Republic of Ireland’s 32-man squad to play Estonia and Russia in the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers.

Rams’ manager Nigel Clough had injury concerns over Jason Shackell and Jamie Ward but both were expected to be ready to face the Clarets on Saturday.

With only days to go before the closure of the summer transfer window, Rams fans watched and waited to see if any further squad strengthening would happen. Young Leicester striker Martyn Waghorn, a Derby target for six months or more, has been told by the Foxes he can find a new club.

He might cost £1.5m but has been identified by both Messrs Clough and Glick as a player Derby want - so this will be a test of the club’s ability to follow through on promises made.

The Rams’ reserves kicked off their new season with a 3-1 win at Port Vale. Derby fielded a strong side, with several first-team squad members gaining fitness and match-time. Maguire, Cywka, Ball, Robinson and Roberts played. Defender Jake Buxton made a comeback from his numerous injuries and Robinson, Maguire and Ball scored Derby’s goals.

Shrewsbury Town, Derby’s conquerors in the Carling Cup recently, repeated their giant-killing feat by stuffing Premier League Swansea City in the 2nd Round. There were other upsets, too; MK Dons stuffed Norwich 4-0 at Carrow Road, Rochdale won at QPR and Charlton knocked out Reading. West Ham lost at home to League Two side Aldershot.

Also, Brighton defeated Sunderland, Swindon won at Bristol City and Watford lost to Bristol Rovers. We’ll wait and see whether another side outside of the Premier League top six can emulate Birmingham City and nab the trophy next spring.

Some of the clubs making progress can look forward to plum ties in the Third Round, with Brighton hosting Liverpool and Leeds entertaining Manchester United. Holders Birmingham City must triumph over Manchester City to make progress whilst Shrewsbury Town, who knocked out the Rams, have the chance for another big scalp when they travel to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

Rams’ Player of the Year John Brayford has signed a new three-year deal with the club. The full-back gained rapid recognition from fans for his consistent performances in his first season at Pride Park Stadium, also deputising competently at centre-half when assorted defenders fell injured.

Instead, Brayford came through his first Championship season strongly; he was an ever-present during 2010-11 and has now earned a revised deal taking him through until 2014. John is a player that Nigel Clough wants to keep as a core member of the Derby team and the contract is good news for player, fans and club.

The latest football League report of clubs’ expenditure on player agent fees (for season 2010-11) showed Derby spending less on this outgoing cost than in previous reports. The Rams conducted 57 transactions using agents with an outlay amounting to £289,500. League clubs committed £16.7m to agent fees overall, with £14.1m of that figure being spent by Championship clubs.

Only 6 Championship clubs spent less than the Rams in that period. I’d expect the next report to see Derby’s payments to agents climb again in the next reporting period, as the transfer and loan activity is on an upward trend. You can read the full report here:

http://www.football-league.co.uk/staticFiles/8f/8c/0,,10794~167055,00.pdf

The build-up to the last game before the international break on Saturday was of course dominated by the Rams’ opportunity to equal the club’s best ever start to a league season, the five wins on the trot achieved at the beginning of the 1905-06 campaign.

Burnley was Derby’s opponent and the Rams’ coaching staff had said they were perhaps a different proposition to the other sides that Derby had faced so far this season. Whilst the Clarets had lost some players following relegation from the Premier League, their sluggish start belied a strong team that had strength and quality and still boasted a fair few costly signings.

The Clarets came to Pride Park Stadium without a Championship win this season, residing in the bottom four of the table. They’d drawn two of their three games, lost the other one - and lagged behind their expectations of a strong challenge to return to the Premier League.

Young midfielder Jeff Hendrick, this week called up to the Republic of Ireland Under-21 squad, retained his place in the Rams’ starting line-up - as manager Clough unsurprisingly named an unchanged side. There was still no place in the squad for Polish forward Tomasz Cywka.

Derby couldn’t get the snap, crackle and pop going early on to take the initiative against an organised and capable Clarets side. The home team were grateful to see the score still at 0-0 at the first half whistle; Burnley had struck the post, looked more dangerous and soaked up Derby’s attack. The Rams had hardly managed an effort on goal.

Some Derby players were feeling the strain of their various knocks and bruises along with the patchy pre-season; there was also too much haste and hoof-ball compared to the composed football that has often been on display this season.

If we’re going to use that option, it’s about time we did sign that burly centre-forward we’re lacking. In defence, Shackell wasn’t quite as sharp and dominant as in previous games, below 100% fitness. Jamie Ward and Steve Davies didn’t fire on all cylinders, carrying knocks and not enjoying much good service in any event.

The latter two were replaced by Robinson and Croft at half time, as Clough tried to inject more pace and presence into Derby’s attack. It did have a galvanising effect and the second half was more exciting for Rams fans.

However, Derby’s usually solid defence creaked open after 50 minutes when Mark O’Brien was given the slip, Burnley’s £2m striker Charlie Austin taking advantage to give them a lead.

Derby recovered well and gave as good as they got for a spell, making Burnley work harder. In fact, Derby had a good goal by Lee Croft disallowed on the hour mark because the officials did not see it cross the goal-line - but cross the line it certainly did, as shown in this YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikNVeej5aHo

Oh for goal-line technology! That would have been an equaliser - and who knows what course the game would then have taken?

Finally, Derby’s increased energy paid off. Theo Robinson crashed home Bryson’s drilled low cross to equalise on 71 minutes and it looked like the Rams might still extend their winning streak.

Minutes later though, Burnley reclaimed the lead when Fielding could only parry a strong drive from Wallace; Austin was on the spot again to make it 2-1 to the visitors. The Clarets’ canny tactics for the remainder of the game then ensured that they kept what they had gained.

Burnley had ability, application and strength; they also mixed it when they needed to and (especially in the first half) found a referee that was overly tolerant of some of their challenges - or he was simply incompetent, along with his assistants.

There was also plenty of time-wasting from them, Eddie Howe's players displaying a tediously thespian streak upon any foul committed by Derby, which frustrated the home crowd.

Burnley employed a good measure of play-acting to lengthen any injury scenarios and ensure that the later stages of the game were scrappily broken up, which denied Derby the chance to build any momentum.

Seven minutes’ stoppage time said it all, given that the Rams had made two substitutes at half-time - and the way Burnley wound down the time after they had the lead for the second time put the writing on the wall for Derby’s hopes of equalling their all-time winning opening sequence.

So for Derby’ hopes of another five-in-a-row start, it was close, but no cigar. Burnley deserved their win, even though it took defensive errors to let them in for both goals. A mistake through inexperience exposed O’Brien for once and though Fielding might have pushed Wallace’s shot away from Austin’s path, the goalkeeper did make other excellent saves during the game.

Despite Saturday’s disappointment, it has been an excellent start for Derby. They have negotiated a large injury tally after an uneven and disrupted pre-season programme, yet still achieved a cracking start to put 12 points on the board and have won both of their away games.

The Rams are 3rd in the Championship table, behind still-undefeated Brighton and their other newly-promoted south coast rival Southampton. Middlesbrough and (surprisingly) Crystal Palace have joined the early leaders in the top six along with West Ham, who thrashed Nothingham Forest at the City Ground.

Derby has a platform to build upon and expectations for the season have been raised. Asked about squad strengthening before the closure of the transfer window, Nigel Clough said: “We have to concentrate on the ‘outs’ first,” meaning he’s tasked with shifting superfluous players from the ranks - the unwanted, on high wages, such as Dean Leacock and Stephen Bywater.

That no other clubs had been scrambling for the services of these players during the past three months speaks volumes for their current rating. It’s hoped that injuries or shortages at other clubs can enable Derby to offload unwanted players - or at least loan them out so that part of their wages are paid by recipient clubs.

Derby fans, however, won’t accept a situation where the club’s owners fudge and fog yet again, to back off from strengthening positions that are weak, and see the team’s early promise wither away before a familiar limp, lowly finish to yet another season. Derby simply must make progress.

The manager has regularly identified his needs and the CEO has continually said they will be provided for. There’s still a question mark about Roberts and Kilbane at left-back and the absence of a target man showed up against the physically robust Burnley defence. We’ll certainly need more quality, resilience and power to be a real force over the next 41 games.

Mr Glick wrote that the club ‘continues to make calls and enquiries’ with a view to strengthening the squad but also cites that shifting superfluous players is proving ‘challenging’ and comments that Derby might look to the loan market for reinforcement.

The Rams will want the away game at Coventry on 10th September to come around more quickly than the 14 days they’ll now have to wait to embark upon another winning run. The trip to the Ricoh Arena is followed by another Midland’s derby - the big one at the City Ground!

Can Derby resume their excellent start to the season, and will the club take out a little insurance against another winter slump by entering the transfer & loan markets again to fill the gaps in the playing squad?

Finally, a top-flight footnote: the Premier League saw a remarkable Sunday in which Manchester City staked their claim and stormed to the top of the table with a 5-1 victory at Tottenham. Not to be outdone, current Champions Manchester United promptly overtook City on goal difference after a remarkable 8-2 demolition of Arsenal at Old Trafford. The goal-fest included a Rooney hat-trick.

For those who haven’t seen the like before and think football history commenced when the Premier League started up (especially glib, excitable football commentators and writers), Derby County thrashed Spurs by 8-2 in 1976-77. Charlie George got a hat-trick - and Bruce Rioch got four. In that season, Derby also set a UEFA Cup record with a 12-0 home win over Finn Harps.

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RamsWeek 35 last year saw Derby County ‘running on empty’; Championship rivals were buying players or ‘marquee’ loan signings, whilst rumours about Derby circulated on star players Rob Hulse and Kris Commons being wanted by other clubs. Rams fans hoped that more depth and quality would be added to the Derby County squad.

Jon Stead, once an effective loanee for the Rams, moved to Bristol City for only £200k. City bought another striker too for £800k that week, Ben Pitman from Bournemouth. Leeds signed two players to reinforce their bid to move quickly back to the Premier League.

Luke Varney, the £1m+ Derby striker apparently sidelined so as to avoid paying former club Charlton Athletic appearance clause instalments, joined Premier League Blackpool on loan for the season. The Rams hoped to bring in Real Valladolid forward Alberto Bueno on loan.

The magnificent statue of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor was unveiled outside Pride Park Stadium, the memory of that glorious six-year period of success literally casting a vivid shadow across the modern-day team as fans hoped the club’s fortunes could somehow be rekindled.

We thought it was happening that weekend, as Derby stormed early Championship leaders QPR to take a 2-0 lead and set the stadium rocking. Kris Commons gave the Rams a lead and then James Bailey notched his first goal for the club.

Stoppage time, however, saw Derby’s defence rocking, as it collapsed to enable Rangers to snatch a point that they had not deserved from a 2-2 draw.

It wasn’t to be the last time that such carelessness, nerves and sloppy play allowed opposing team to snatch draws or victories from Derby’s grasp during last season, as an attack of ‘the late horrors’ denied them victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Action Images



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